Brownie Points is designed for couples to help keep track of each other’s behavior. Couples give each other points for doing things the other likes and each partner accumulates those points to earn rewards like “having a girls night out” or “getting alone time” or whatever. I appreciate that many couples work this way and I also appreciate the intention of the app to help catch each other “being good.” But I have to admit, this idea is making every part of me cringe.
Never mind the importance of doing good things for the sake of doing good things. Forget about the fact that our Church teaches that we “find ourselves by making a gift of ourselves.” Completely put aside the fact that the Theology of Research reminds us of the importance of authentic “mutual self donation” in relationships. Even if we pretend none of that is important, research by the Gottman Relationship Institute actually shows that this sort of tit-for-tat exercise that many marriage therapists continue to recommend is actually destructive to marriage. Keeping score is one of the worst things you can do in a relationship and doing good things for your spouse just so you can win a prizes tends to undo the benefits of doing those things in the first place. If you are only being loving to get something back out of it, you aren’t being loving, you are treating your partner like a vending machine into which you put relational coins so that you can get “goodies.”
This article at The Science of Relationships is more generous, acknowledging the potential dangers but suggesting that some good could come out of it for some couples. I seriously doubt it.
If you and your spouse tend to be too aware of the ways you annoy each other and not nearly as good at recognizing the ways you take care of each other, I’d recommend the Lovelist exercise I describe in For Better…Forever!
1. Write down 25+ things that make you feel cherished. (Keep the list positive and concrete. e.g., I feel loved/cherished when you help me in the kitchen.)
2. Exchange the lists. Each day, do at least two things that come relatively easily to you and one thing that is a little bit more of a stretch. (Assuming that the items aren’t objectively immoral or demeaning).
3. Each evening, take 10 mins to discuss the little things you tried to do to make your spouse’s life a little easier or more pleasant. Acknowledge those things appropriately. Ask what else you might be able to do to take care of each other tomorrow.
This approach to marital caregiving encourages couples to take better care of each other and helps couples catch each other being good but because it puts the emphasis on one’s own generosity toward one’s spouse, it decreases the likelihood of score-keeping and undermining good behavior with selfish motivations.
For more healthy ideas for taking care of your spouse and your marriage, check our For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.